Economic Botany

, 65:295 | Cite as

Diversity of Plant Knowledge as an Adaptive Asset: A Case Study with Standing Rock Elders1

  • Morgan L. RuelleEmail author
  • Karim–Aly S. Kassam


Diversity of Plant Knowledge as an Adaptive Asset: A Case Study with Standing Rock Elders. Indigenous knowledge is often represented as being homogeneous within cultural groups, and differences in knowledge within communities are interpreted as a lack of cultural consensus. Alternatively, differences in knowledge represent a range of possibilities for communities to respond to social and ecological change. This paper examines the diversity of plant knowledge among elders who live in the Standing Rock Nation of the northern Great Plains. Elders know how to use different plants, and also hold different knowledge about the same plants. Analysis indicates that elders each contribute unique, complementary, and seemingly contradictory plant knowledge to their community. Compiled seasonal rounds help visualize differences in knowledge about the temporal availability of plants. These differences are linked to variations in use, including references to specific gathering sites, strategies to harvest multiple species, and selection of plants at different stages of development. Elders’ diverse knowledge about the seasonal availability of plants may facilitate community adaptation to climate change in the 21st century.

Key Words

Indigenous knowledge Lakota Dakota intracultural diversity food plants  Standing Rock Nation 



The authors would like to thank the director of NFE, Luella Harrison, for her guidance throughout the research process. We are indebted to the Standing Rock Elder Advisory Council for their enthusiasm and support. Thanks to all of the elders who shared their knowledge, including Therese Martin, Leonard Village Center, Stella Whitesell Guggolz, Theo Iron Cloud, and those named earlier in the text. We would also like to thank Timothy Fahey, Kurt Jordan, Stephen Morreale, the editors, and the anonymous reviewers for valuable insights that strengthened this work. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0707428.

Literature Cited

  1. Berkes, F., J. Colding, and C. Folke. 2000. Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications 10:1251–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ———, C. Folke, and M. Gadgil. 1995. Traditional ecological knowlege, biodiversity, resilience and sustainability. Beijer International Institute, Stockholm.Google Scholar
  3. ——— and N. Turner. 2006. Knowledge, learning and the evolution of conservation practice for social–ecological system resilience. Human Ecology 34:479–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention]. 2007. National diabetes surveillance system. (6 April 2010).
  5. Davis, A. and J. Wagner. 2003. Who Knows? On the importance of identifying “experts” when researching local ecological knowledge. Human Ecology 31:463–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gilmore, M. 1991. Uses of plants by the Indians of the Missouri River region. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska.Google Scholar
  7. Grant, B. R. and P. R. Grant. 1993. Evolution of Darwin’s finches caused by a rare climatic event. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 251:111–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Harmon, D. 2002. In light of our differences: How diversity in nature and culture makes us human. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  9. IPNI. 2011. The International Plant Names Index. (5 January 2011).
  10. Jones, L. 1998. Culturally important plants of the Lakota along the Missouri River, Pre–Oahe Dam. Fort Yates, North Dakota: Standing Rock Tribal Historic Preservation Office.Google Scholar
  11. Joyce, L. A., D. Ojima, G. A. Seielstad, R. Harris, and J. Lackett. 2001. Potential consequences of climate variability and change for the Great Plains. In: Climate Change Impacts on the United States—Foundation Report: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, eds. National Assessment Synthesis Team, 191–217. Cambridge: United Kingdom: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  12. Kassam, K. 2009. Biocultural diversity and indigenous ways of knowing: Human ecology in the Arctic. University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta (Canada).Google Scholar
  13. ——— 2010. Pluralism, resilience, and the ecology of survival: Case studies from the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan. Ecology and Society 15:8.Google Scholar
  14. ———, M. Karamkhudoeva, M. Ruelle, and M. Baumflek. 2010. Medicinal plant use and health sovereignty: Findings from the Tajik and Afghan Pamirs. Human Ecology 38:817–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. ——— and The Wainwright Traditional Council. 2001. Passing on the knowledge: Mapping human ecology in Wainwright, Alaska. Arctic Institute of North America, Calgary, Alberta (Canada).Google Scholar
  16. Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible wild plants of the prairie: An ethnobotanical guide. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.Google Scholar
  17. Kraft, S. 1990. Recent Changes in the Ethnobotany of Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Department of Geography, University of North Dakota, Master’s thesis.Google Scholar
  18. Lawson, M. L. 1994. Dammed Indians: The Pick–Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944–1980. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.Google Scholar
  19. Loh, J. and D. Harmon. 2005. A global index of biocultural diversity. Ecological Indicators 5:231–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maffi, L. 2005. Linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. Annual Review of Anthropology 34:599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nabhan, G. P., P. Pynes, and T. Joe. 2002. Safeguarding species, languages, and cultures in the time of diversity loss: From the Colorado Plateau to global hotspots. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden:164–175.Google Scholar
  22. NFE [Standing Rock Nutrition for the Elderly and Caregiver Support]. 2007. Needs assessment 2007. Fort Yates, North Dakota: Standing Rock Tribal Health Department. Google Scholar
  23. Noss, R. F. 1990. Indicators for monitoring biodiversity: A hierarchical approach. Conservation Biology 4:355–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nyong, A., F. Adesina, and B. Osman Elasha. 2007. The value of indigenous knowledge in climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the African Sahel. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 12:787–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Phillips, W. 2003. Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana.Google Scholar
  26. The Plant List. 2010. Version 1. (22 June 2011).
  27. Romney, A. K., S. C. Weller, and W. H. Batchelder. 1986. Culture as consensus: A theory of culture and informant accuracy. American anthropologist 88:313–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Turner, N. and H. Clifton. 2009. “It’s so different today”: Climate change and indigenous lifeways in British Columbia, Canada. Global Environmental Change 19:180–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. American community survey demographic and housing estimates: 2005–2009. (4 January 2011).
  30. Ullrich, J., ed. 2008. New Lakota Dictionary: Lakhótiyapi–English, English–Lakhótiyapi & incorporating the Dakota dialects of Yankton–Yanktonai & Santee–Sisseton. Lakota Language Consortium, Bloomington, Indiana.Google Scholar
  31. USDA–NRCS [United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service]. 2010. PLANTS Profiles. (15 September 2010).
  32. Vandebroek, I. 2010. The dual intracultural and intercultural relationship between medicinal plant knowledge and consensus. Economic Botany 64:303–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations